Super Monkey Ball’s identity has become heavily warped over the years. While the most recent entries have been relatively underwhelming in difficulty and general game design, the real golden age of the series was actually back when it first began with Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. Thankfully, this most recent entry, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, is a lovingly crafted collective remaster of the three aforementioned titles, and my time with it so far has been full of the same cyclical frustration and fulfillment I remembered being addicted to years ago.
When beginning, players have various modes they can try out, with the most prominent being story mode. This is Monkey Ball’s bread and butter and is easily the highlight of the experience, containing stages where players roll around in a sphere to traverse obstacle courses and eventually reach a goal. It isn’t easy to describe the gameplay of Monkey Ball as it is more of an experience that is better understood while playing.
Stages are all timed and, by extension, brief. Still, this doesn’t mean they are all mindlessly simple, far from it, in fact. Though the first couple of stages are braindead in difficulty, they serve the function of emitting how the physics and general movement feel. The stages become expectedly more difficult the more you progress, and boy, oh boy, they get tricky. Several stages tend to be elaborate puzzles and, above all else, require patience.
Although the presence of a time limit can grant a sense of urgency, I always find it best to take my time and really understand the layout of the stages since there’s really no consequence for failing other than retrying. Considering how often players will likely find themselves falling to their doom, it’s convenient that there isn’t more of a punishment. These stages are more akin to arcade experiences given their bite-sized nature, and that alone makes it arduous to put the controller down and take a break. I truly forgot how supremely addicting Monkey Ball could be after not having played these original games in so long, yet I’m thrilled to see that its magic has not lost its touch.
There are several other modes players can dabble in, such as the Points Shop which houses several items to buy. When collecting bananas in stages and clearing missions, the currency is earned that can be used here. Aside from playable characters who are really just glorified skins, there are also cosmetic items and even straight-up gameplay modes to purchase. Still, I must admit, even though these playable characters are just skins, something about playing as Kazuma Kiryu in this kid-friendly game is so astoundingly ridiculous in a vein all too fitting for RGG Studio.
Several minigames are also available with their own missions to complete, and they provide a welcome change of pace to the standard gameplay systems. Even though they are all extremely straightforward and basic mechanically, they are undeniably joyous experiences with their own bits of flavor.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is shaping up to be exactly what veteran Monkey Ball fans have been desiring for years. Finally, a classic return to form with a fresh coat of paint and ease of platform accessibility. I can’t wait to dive into this title’s intricacies and experience more of the delight my younger self had with cult-classic Monkey Ball.
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